Philanthropy and Light Carnegie Libraries and the Advent of Transatlantic Standards for Public Space
Walter Gropius associated standardisation with promoting civilisation in 1935, yet Andrew Carnegie’s influence on the proliferation of pattern book public library plans internationally predated these observations by 50 years. Through the first twenty years of his programme, he supported the erection of almost three thousand public buildings across Britain and America. Though better acknowledged in the US than the UK, this philanthropic contribution radically extended the scope of public provision and remains incomparable in its scale and scope in both nations. Frequently engraved with the self-deifying slogan Let there be Light, open access to navigate these new interior public spaces after work coincided with the first provision of electric light. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, professional groups had sought to specify minimum standards of natural light and air for schools and hospitals. However, the commercial quantification of electricity accelerated the development of a readily comparable vocabulary to prescribe adequate quantities of light for all tasks regardless of their location or orientation. Seeking to gauge the extent of universal values, this book concentrates on the design and performance of a handful of early Carnegie library buildings in Britain and America, identifying their response to contemporary design theory, but also by contrast to their respective local environmental contexts. It examines whether their standards of provision were equitable and if these privately financed public buildings were the first roots of generically standardised public environments to be shared transatlantically. The book also argues that the public library building type can provide a datum for acknowledging the twentieth century legacy of shared international environmental standards for public spaces more broadly.
'Philanthropy and Light combines architectural, social and cultural history and the analytical tools of building science to offer unique insights into the part played by Carnegie's philanthropy in bringing enlightenment and significant works of architecture to the urban populations of Britain and America.' Dean Hawkes, Darwin College, University of Cambridge, UK 'This book was a genuine inspiration for some recent work, a history which can be read as a contemporary critique and prompt.' Liza Fior, muf architecture/art LLP, UK 'Prizeman's research is thorough, and many of her illustrations and maps were obtained from Pittsburgh repositories, such as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system and the University of Pittsburgh Archives. This volume contains some technical language, but interested adult readers should not encounter much difficulty. Overall, Philanthropy and Light is a recommended read for advanced readers interested in the architectural and social history of public spaces.' Heinz History Center 'Oriel Prizeman’s scholarship is impressive. Research libraries will want to acquire this work. Economic historians, sociologists and librarians will all profit from the novel and fruitful insights in Philanthropy and Light.' The Australian Library Journal 'Philanthropy and Light is an excellent piece of scholarship which offers instruction and insight to a number of disciplines of which library history is but one. This work provides much of interest to the cultural historian, the sociologist, the industrial historian and, of course, to the architect. Prizeman is to be congratulated for an excellent and distinctive addition to the corpus of literature on Carnegie and for bringing to the attention of the library world an area that is possibly not fully understood or appreciated by those working the sector'. Library & Information History